"When you speak of the beauty of the horizon, it is only from your side of the earth."

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 04/11/2010 - 13:56.

European Trader in a Hammock, 1800s
Wood, pigment
Unknown artist
Bembe, Congo-Brazzaville

Living in Cleveland, when I think of businesspeople from Detroit I picture someone very much like the European trader depicted in the African carving above - big-game-trader, big-thinker Dan Gilbert, coming from the West to transform Cleveland through gambling... carried through our streets by our native leaders and their subjects. I expect about as great an outcome for Cleveland as such "Westerner" infestation brought to Africa, looking more like complete annihilation than salvation... except in the art, where change may be beautiful, despite being tragic.

I wouldn't go to Detroit or anywhere for a casino, but I am planning to visit the "Motor City" shortly for their museum, to celebrate "Through African Eyes," a major exhibition exploring the European presence in African art that opens April 18 (through August 8, 2010) at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) - the images featured here are from this exhibition. I won't hold Detroit's gambling interests against that city, when their leaders at the DIA have traditionally sought to elevate the community above the annihilation of their local culture.

Figure of a European Missionary Reading to an African, 1850-1900
Wood, pigment
Unknown artist
Kongo culture, Democratic Republic of Congo

As Detroit-interests are about to enslave the people of Northeast Ohio to increased poverty, through their gambling interests, I have reservations about supporting Detroit, the community. But, I do not have reservations about supporting the DIA, or real arts and culture anywhere.

And I love to explore African art.... especially representations from Africa of Africa from after when Africa was really infested by outsiders. The first major work of African art I bought as an adult, outside of Africa, is a fine figurative carving of a small African girl of Sierra Leone, with scarification patterns, who is wearing a blue European school dress.

That isn't her mother's Africa shown there, or throughout "Through African Eyes".

European Couple Walking the Dog,
Wood, paint
Thomas Ona Odulate
Yoruba culture, Nigerian, active 1900-1950

My family has many examples of such Western-influenced art in our art collections, and I find such colonial African works are some of the most accessible to Westerners, as Westerners may see ourselves in the imagery. That Western familiarity built into such "native" art seems to make it especially relevant to modern Americans. As a reviewer from the Detroit Free Press wrote, in preview of this show, this art offers an "exciting blend of aesthetic beauty and intellectual pop".

The Detroit Institute of Arts is to be commended for assembling this important exhibition of African art, but the venue is not surprising. As the DIA website appropriately boasts: "African art collecting is inextricably tied to the founding of the Detroit Institute of Arts at the turn of 20th century and remains one of the institution's important hallmarks." Their website goes on to point out: 

The DIA's African art collection ranks among the finest in the United States. It comprises some rare world-class works from nearly one hundred African cultures, predominantly from regions south of the Sahara desert. A diverse collection, ranging from sculpture to textiles to exquisite utilitarian wares, religious paraphernalia and bodily ornaments, it is heavily weighted toward the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

As such, the DIA has a perfect foundation from which to mount such an exhibit.

Further, the DIA has a commitment to exhibiting a highly diverse collection, with the strongest combined appreciation for the arts of Africans and African Americans that I know of in a museum anywhere. In addition to having an exemplary African art collection, the DIA has "The General Motors African American Art Collection":

This curatorial department and resource center develops special exhibitions, lectures and symposia on African American art. The Center was designed to enhance public knowledge of African American contributions to the art community, while exploring American history, society and creative expression from an African American perspective.

Established in 2000, the GM Center for African American Art represents one of the first curatorial departments dedicated solely to African American art at any major art museum. The Center actively pursues acquisitions and plans exhibitions of the museum's growing permanent collection of African American art. Currently over 400 objects, in various media, are included in the collection. Most of these works date from the latter half of the 1900's, and the collection is especially strong in the graphic arts.

The DIA represents the greatest cultural brains and commitment of Motown.

Over the next few years, Northeast Ohio shall be impacted by a very different "cultural" brain - more like "drain" - from Detroit, that is already changing the social character, landscape and artistic expressions of our community... Detroit is home to the gambling brains coming to build casinos in Ohio. I expect the impact on our culture to be as striking and irreversable as has been the impact of the movement of Western interests into Africa... and I expect the ultimate outcomes to be as poor.

Like with changes to the art and culture of Africa, influenced by Europeans infesting the land of the Africans, the art and culture of Ohio shall be influenced by casinos invading here. The results of infestation of Africa may have been visually interesting, and are often very beautiful - like gambling brings "beautiful" neon lights and strippers to casinolands - the outcomes are very different from what was native before infestation... and I don't feel Africa is really better for their infestation.

Barbershop Signboard, 2009
Paint on plywood
Isaac Okyere, a.k.a. Azey

I do not expect Ohio to be better from the infestation from casinos from Detroit...

Despite Detroit invading Northeast Ohio with their gambling interests, it is still certainly worth visiting Detroit to see the DIA's ultimate expression of one of the ultimate eras of cultural shock ever recorded... the infestation of Africa by Europeans, made beautiful in the hands of the great natives of Africa.

And it is worth going to Detroit to support what roots of enlightened culture they have maintained there, which are clearly grounded at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

I'll share with you what they have to offer, when I visit - perhaps I'll catch a glimpse of what they are sending our way with their casinos, in the process.

It must be booming in Detroit, if Ohioans are so excitied about importing their great gambling here - I'll bring back some photos of Dan Gilbert's land of progress and promises!

For more insight into Detroit-based culture guaranteed to be of the highest level, see valuable high school curriculum material for the "Through African Eyes" show located on the DIA website here... where I found the photographs included here...

Would you rather send your children to Detroit to see the DIA, or to their casino, to learn about global culture?

If you said to their casino, your family will love Cleveland after the Detroit infestation.

In Africa, Westerners brought the natives garbage like bottle caps, which native Africans made into art... so, perhaps the people of Ohio may make some beauty from the garbage of the gambling interests coming here, despite what harm they cause the community.

Still More Came Back, 2005
Metal, bottle caps
El Anatsui
Ghanaian, born 1944

 "Post-independence, African ideas associated with “Europe” become those of the “West” which now includes the United States and American culture." - Curriculum material for "Through African Eyes"

The Detroit Free Press reviewer who has previewed this show writes:

A Ghanaian proverb serves as an ideal epigraph: "When you speak of the beauty of the horizon, it is only from your side of the earth."

What you see, in other words, depends on where you stand. "Through African Eyes" -- spaciously and attractively installed in galleries adorned by curvilinear fabric screens, smart annotations and multimedia elements -- gives primacy to African voices over art history scholarship, formal analysis or ideological readings. A generous selection of quotes from African elders and artists shadows visitors through the show, expanding the context and amplifying the meaning of the art.

Hopefully, someday, good elders and artists of our region shall be appreciated with such purity, somewhere, despite the gambles taken by our poor leaders bringing casino infestation here, now.

I doubt I'll live to see that exhibit, ever, so I'm going to Detroit to see what they have to offer now..

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